The TES today 19.09.2017, reported the outcomes of a report commissioned by the Wellcome Trust which argues that the subject is not being given enough priority or time by most of the nation's primaries.
They found that on average, across all primary school year groups, more than half of classes (58%) did not get two hours of science a week. The figures are based on two surveys of teachers, including one of staff who led on the subject for their school.
Wellcome also identified a fear among teachers that children would ask a question they would not know the answer to, and a belief that science is messy, expensive, time-consuming. The study was published to mark the launch of Explorify, a new free digital resource for school science.
The downgrading of science could be tracked back to around 1997, when that incarnation of the curriculum coincided with the National Strategies for Literacy and Numeracy (not English and Maths) and the delivery of QCA packs of “foolproof” science recipe booklets. Science teaching by numbers… Teachers learned not to think as scientists, but to follow the instructions. In other words, they forgot to think for themselves.
I trained as a primary science teacher, extended through Environmental Science and spent a period seconded to the Assessment of Performance Unit looking at how primary children learn in science situations.
Like many practical areas of the curriculum, such as art, organising for a class of thirty is challenging, as it takes a significant resource base, space can be at a premium and time can be a limiting factor. Space, time and resources have been perennial issues and probably always will be.
In the beginning of my career, the integrated day, based on groups undertaking challenges, were the norm. This meant perhaps a group of up to 8 working on a challenge; one table devoted to science (or other topic area), another to art, perhaps one to writing, one to maths and one to reading. Yes, that is five groups of 8, the size of my classes from 1974-1979 and no TA…
When I became a head and LMS enabled the hiring of TAs to support learning, I was lucky enough to find someone with science and technology as interests, so we could create quality learning opportunities in both subjects, based on small groups supported by the expert TA. In between supported science, teachers would set up science challenges for small groups to undertake with some independence. It’s the practice in decision making, developing rational lines of investigation, that, to me, have always underpinned primary science.
Unless schools begin to address what might actually be a systemic issue, science and other foundation subjects will continue to suffer, yet they offer significant opportunities for use and application of knowledge and skills learned in maths and English.
Some extracts from mid-1980s ASE publications.
And some other blogs that look at different aspects of primary science. It doesn’t have to be difficult!
Creating Primary Scientists
Primary Science is a practical subject
In search of the Triantiwontigongolope
Messing About on the River
November is a rotten month
Observation; get them to look
Creating Nature Detectives
The world is not wallpaper
Exploring Science From shiny Things